Scapegoats Are Not Martyrs

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In the beginning of the spiritual life, even if I  live a devout, disciplined, ascetic lifestyle, I still fall into the scapegoat trap. It is a trap that in the end focuses on ourselves, our actions, our devotions and effort. I am at the front and centre, not God.

In the Old Testament, the Azazel goat, translated as scapegoat, was one of two goats chosen for a ceremony on The Day of Atonement. The first goat was sacrifice but a priest would lay hands on the second goat and symbolically transfer all the sin and guilt of the community on to this animal. The scapegoat was then driven into the desert, to die, thus cleansing the community of its sin.

“And when he has made an end of atoning for The Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:20-22 RSV)

Every society and culture has a tradition of a scapegoat, someone to blame and punish for the sin of that particular society. It follows, then, that in the beginning of the spiritual life, when we are confronted with our own sinfulness and those around us, we are conditioned to act like the scapegoat.

Scapegoats Are Not Martyrs crucifix

When I take on the identity of a scapegoat, even if I  live a devout, disciplined, ascetic lifestyle with a daily round of mass, rosaries, Eucharistic Adoration and frequent confession, I still fall into the scapegoat trap. It is a trap that all of us fall into as we try to become devoted disciples of Jesus. It is a piety that in the end focuses on ourselves, our actions, our devotions and effort. I am front and centre, not God.

To make a shift from an egocentric lifestyle to a God-centered lifestyle is tricky business. Thank heavens the Catholic Church has always understood the need for spiritual directors, but the fundamental difference between  self-centered piety and true, vibrant life in Christ is when we give up trying to save ourselves and surrender to Jesus. When we consciously choose Christ, the switch is immediate from misery to joy, even if we seem to suffer just as much in our external lives we are no longer pitiful scapegoats.

From the Mass:

A: We proclaim your death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection until you come again. B: When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,we proclaim your death, O Lord,
until you come again.

C: Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.

When we act like a victim sacrifice, suffering for our own failings or like a scapegoat who suffers as the result of others sins, we might like to think of ourselves as saintly martyrs, but our suffering is anything but holy. There is no act filled with more pride. We are in fact stealing Christ’s job.

Christ came to suffer and die on the cross for our sins. He is the sacrificial lamb who takes away all sin. He is like the scapegoat of the Old Testament, burdened by the sins of the people who by his death and resurrection, justifies  everyone by the power of His blood in the eyes of God the Father.

It takes humility to realize that our miserable, self-inflicted suffering does not save anyone, least of all ourselves. Accepting Jesus as our Saviour really goes against our grain as human beings because we want to earn our salvation, purify ourselves by suffering  out of a misplaced sense of guilt. Ironically it usually takes suffering to break down our ego and pride. Once exhausted by trying to save ourselves, we often must hit bottom before we are desperate enough to change, to let go of our pride and control and surrender in humility to Christ our Saviour. Only the drowning man even realizes that he needs saved, only a sick man grasps the truth that he needs to be healed.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5  (NASB))

Yes there is a place for redemptive suffering but what most of us experience is far from redemptive because our suffering is not in union with Christ’s; we are simply falling into the scapegoat trap. Redemptive suffering is not long-faced misery but in fact joyful because it is life-giving and life affirming as we live in, with and through Christ our Saviour. It  might involve physical pain but  it is lived in the Light, in peace and in joy. When we are no longer the centre of attention but Jesus is the centre; all heavy, psychological despair and mental anguish dissipates like insubstantial mist under the burning sunlight.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB))

How have you acted like a scapegoat in your spiritual walk? Can you see moments when you have tried to save everyone rather than committing them to the mercy of your Saviour?

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About Author

Melanie Jean Juneau is a mother of nine children who blogs at joy of nine9. Her writing is humorous and heart-warming; thoughtful and thought-provoking. Part of her call and her witness is to write the truth about children, family, marriage and the sacredness of life. Melanie is the administrator of ACWB, the Editor in Chief at CatholicLane, CatholicStand, Catholic365 , CAPC & author of Echoes of the Divine.

4 Comments

  1. Oh Melanie, what an important question you ask! I think moms are particularly prone to scapegoat behavior. So often, I judge myself based upon my husband and sons’ actions, rather than taking time to focus on my own life and behavior. Thanks for giving me something to pray about today!

  2. Assuming the role of scapegoat for yourself is not the same as being the scapegoat. Aaron put the sins of the community on the scapegoat and sent it away. Many families–consciously or not–choose one member for such abuse. The family scapegoat is sometimes physically abused, always psychologically abused. Please keep the distinction.

    • exactly, thank-you so much for bringing that up. Victims feel enough guilt without feeling that it was their fault. Usually the scapegoat identity is thrust upon them at an early age. I am in a group where many have been the scapegoat for there family. When they understand the dynamic, they have been able to stand up interiorly at first and shake of guit and condemnation. When they refuse the scapegoat identity, often the dynamic changes.

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